Thinking Aloud: “A Darkling Sea”

May 23, 2014 by Darius 

I just finished reading A Darkling Sea by James Cambias.  It’s probably the best science fiction book I’ve read this year.

A Darkling Sea is set on the alien moon of Ilmatar (named for a Finnish goddess), a world covered in ice and oceans.  It is in these oceans, amidst the cold, the dark and the crushing pressure, that human scientists have set up a station to study Ilmatar’s life, including the intelligent lobster-like Ilmatarans, who have an ancient civilization of their own.  But there is a third alien race in the picture: the Sholen, technologically ahead of humanity but isolationists, who seek to both study the humans and Ilmatarans and preserve Ilmatar untouched.

The interactions of the three races provide Cambias an opportunity to work in some insightful commentary on our society and human nature and create a thoroughly entertaining plot.  Specifically, the three alien races in A Darkling Sea serve as stand-ins for international relations of the present:  Ilmatar was chosen as a test case for interstellar cooperation between the humans and the Sholen because (a) the Ilmatarans were an object of mutual interest and (b) neither the humans nor the Sholen could live on Ilmatar permanently.  If cooperation couldn’t work there, it couldn’t work anywhere.

Additionally, Cambias shows great imagination in choosing his alien races.  Each culture has important characteristics in common but very different sets of practices and customs.  Their interactions and misunderstandings are well-imagined and interesting.

A Darkling Sea  would appeal to anyone who enjoys science fiction or is just looking for a thoughtful, well-written new book.

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